Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Starlog Project: Starlog #150, January 1990: The Big One-Five-Oh

Starlog #150 kicks off a new decade for the magazine. Consider where it’s been in the past 10 years. January 1980 was a 68-page, $1.95 publication, with the pages half-color, half black-and-white. A little-known movie called Star Trek – The Motion Picture was on the cover.

Ten years later, the magazine is not much bigger – 76 pages – but the cover price is about twice as much at $3.95. The quality of the paper looks and feels higher, though it has bobbed up and down through the preceding decade. The cover logo has shrunk dramatically. There’s a different editor, one of the publishers has left, we’ve had musical chairs of the art director (and the entire design staff), and much of the editorial staff is different, though David Hutchison remains in his slot. The Starlog Photo Guidebooks seem to be a moribund project, but the company has spread its wings in many other ways, with videos, conventions, poster magazines, licensed Star Trek: The Next Generation magazines, official film magazines, Scrapbook photo magazines, spinoffs, and much more.

The thing that probably matters most to readers, however, is the content of the magazine. I tend to like the personality (and occasional controversy) that columnists give to a magazine, and in January 1980, Starlog had personality to spare, with a whopping five columnists (Gerry Anderson, Jonathan Eberhart, David Gerrold, David Houston, and Susan Sackett), plus editorial columns by the editor and the publisher. Ten years later, the only columnist is that publisher – now former publisher – Kerry O’Quinn, plus the editor, David McDonnell. If five was too many (and it was, for a small magazine), then one is too few. The articles, and the article mix, remain strong. Old and new, television and movies and books, interviews and previews and retrospectives, episode guides and convention coverage.

What’s missing in the latter era is not just the columnists, it’s the space science (even the Future Life science section disappeared after a few years) as well as (an admittedly sometimes heavy-handed) devotion to inspiring the readers. But what hasn’t changed is an occasional inspirational piece (often by columnist O’Quinn), a dedication to genre journalism that outclasses all competition, and a willingness to court controversy when it comes, whether it’s the outspoken people it interviews or the willingness to be a bit bolder and franker than some readers would like.

But Trek.... Trek remains.

Starlog #150
76 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $3.95

This is the 150th issue of Starlog, a magazine that by most rights shouldn’t have lasted four issues, much less become the anchor for a company publishing a couple dozen titles. Unlike the 100th issue, however, this issue only trumpets its numerical significance with a cover badge and an in-passing mention in the editor’s column.

But don’t let that fool you; it’s a very strong issue, and once again it’s not the blockbuster on the cover that makes it valuable but the interviews with various creators of SF and fantasy, where writers (in particularly Ben Bova and Philip K. Dick, in a previously unpublished interview from shortly before his death) are asked intelligent questions and they’re given the space to give intelligent and sometimes extended answers. So we get Bova – a legendary presence in the writing and editing fields of science fiction – talking politics (loves missile defence, hates Walter Mondale), and Dick – a legendary and legendarily cutting-edge writer – singing the praises of the Blade Runner adaptation of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as well as giving great insights into his view of writing and his stories. And that doesn’t even mention the absorbing interviews with Richard Matheson, Kurt Siodmak, and the first part of the Charles H. Schneer interview.

This is what magazines do best, when they do it well. They provide the types of in-depth articles that make you put your feet up on the desk or lie down on the couch and settle in to get some great entertainment and intellectual stimulation.

So, happy 150th, Starlog.

The rundown: Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly returns to the screen in the Back to the Future sequel, and BTTF II takes its second consecutive cover of Starlog; meanwhile, the contents page feature photo is Blade Runner’s Harrison Ford, who is described by Dick as being “fabulous ... absolutely incredible” in his role as Rick Deckard. Communications letters include a Smithsonian employee who thanks Kerry O’Quinn for his recent column on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and offers some corrections to details in the column, plus readers chime in with their opinions on Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; and David McDonnell’s Medialog column notes that Arnold Schwarzenegger is considering which of many sequels to take part in: Twins II, Commando II, Predator II, Terminator II, and Conan III. Scuttlebutt has it that he’s most keen on returning to the Conan world, with the possibility of directing (yes), and “Shwarzenegger ... calls his participation in a Terminator II unlikely.”

Edward Gross picks up from Marc Shapiro last issue and talks to Kenneth Johnson about his new TV series Alien Nation; David Hutchison’s Videolog looks at the Christmas-timed release of the Batman video; T.W. Knowles provides a Q&A with veteran writer Ben Bova, who talks extensively about his Kinsman series of novels (which are the books that make me a Bova reader), as well as the Star Wars missile defense concept, which he pioneered years before Reagan was taken with the idea; the Fan Network pages include Lia Pelosi’s directory of fan clubs; Gwen Lee and Doris E. Sauter interview the late Philip K. Dick; Ian Spelling talks with the multi-talented James Cameron, who looks into The Abyss; Marc Shapiro talks with Back to the Future II director Bob Zemeckis; and in the first part of their interview, Tom Weaver and Michael Brunas are told by veteran writer Richard Matheson about one of his few arguments with a film director.

Marc Shapiro chats with Quantum Leap producer Don Bellisario; Lee Server interviews writer/director Curt Siodmak; Steve Swires chats with Ray Harryhausen’s partner, Charles H. Schneer; in his Bridge column, Kerry O’Quinn asks readers to send him their stories for a possible book about chasing your dreams; Jean Airey and Laurie Haldeman interview Terry Nation, who talks about improving science-fiction conventions; and editor David McDonnell’s Liner Notes talks about the science-fiction “creators” interviewed in this issue.
“OK, there won’t be as much sex [in Blade Runner] as I would like to see because I just never weary of sex. I think sex is really wonderful. Sex is not an integral part of the plot, unless you lump love and sex absolutely together. I mean, [Deckard] does fall in love with Rachael in the end, the replicant. And I don’t blame him, because she sure looks cute, and jeepers, I know I would like to meet her.”
–Philip K. Dick, interviewed by Gwen Lee and Dores E. Sauter: “Thinker of Antiquity”
To see more issues, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit The Starlog Project's permanent home.
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